Oxford University is currently offering free classes in Aramaic, the language that would have been spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Surprisingly, the class has attracted record numbers of enrollments, with 56 students in the first class alone.
In a press release, Dr John Ma, a classicist at the University, said:
“It was a real surprise for the lecturer David Taylor, who in previous years has taught Aramaic to groups of three or four students in his study, to find 56 people at his first class. You would probably have to go back two thousand years to find a room so full with people speaking Aramaic – the time when Jesus would have been speaking the language!”
The classes utilize a new grammar developed by Mr. Taylor that is supposed to make this challenging language easier for beginners to learn. They are being offered as part of Project Arshama, which aims to help scholars become more familiar with Aramaic and its dialects so that reading ancient texts in Aramaic becomes as common as reading texts in Latin or Greek.
Various dialects of Aramaic were once spoken throughout Mesopotamia. However, it was eventually replaced by other languages in most of the regions where it was once common. Today, only about 2,200,000 people speak dialects of Aramaic. The language is considered endangered, and the scholars from Oxford believe that the Iraq War may have seriously reduced the number of speakers.
The type of Aramaic that is being studied at Oxford is Imperial Aramaic, which was used by Persia’s Achaemenid Empire as an official form of communication.